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Three Lives in World War 2

 The final blow
1.   Contents and Introduction
2.   Joan Mary Dibdin 5.  Anthony Benoit Guise 8. 1944 A Difficult Year
3 .  1939 the Start of WW2 6.  The Wedding 9. The Final Blow
4..  The Guise Family 7. 1943 and India  10 After the War

On 30th July, while in Meols, Joan received a telegram from the War Office 
to say that her husband had been drown on 23rd July 1944 in Ceylon.

 The Death of Anthony Benoit Guise
1916 – 1944
and Consequential Activity

Anthony Benoit Guise died on 23 July 1943 in Ceylon now called Sri Lanka.

He was on military service but he did not die in action but swimming in the sea at Mount Lavinia, records showing that he drowned trying to save someone else.

This chapter hinges around the official documents and letters, that followed as a consequence of his death, all of which were kept by his wife of less that two years, Joan Guise. Fortunately there are copies of nearly all her letters of that period which give remarkable insights into the personalities of both Tony and Joan and the suffering that Joan endured at the time.

 It has to be remembered that millions were dying tragically all over the world; each death mourned by many, so it seems problematic to single out one death and a few people’s grief to consider worth documenting, however please let this be a representative account that will apply to many others over and over again.

What is so ironic is that Tony was not in the thick if the battle but in a back water of the war working in Headquarters so it would generally be felt that he was for the time being in safe territory. He was living a full and active life both in work and socially.

 The first Joan know of the death was to receive a telegram from the War Office, dated 30 July 1944, seven days late, announcing that Tony had been drowned – circumstances unknown. It will be remembered that he had already survived one sinking on the Mediterranean on the way over to India in about December 1943. Fortunately, as a result of the blitz, Joan had evacuated from London with her son, and was living with her Aunt at Meols in the Wirral, so had some family support.  Following this stark telegram was a letter from the Padre of the Regiment who knew Tony and was able to say more about the situation and how sadly he would be missed by his men and fellow officers. This letter officially should not have been sent since there was a War Office regulation insisting that no private correspondence should be sent until 14 days after a death. The Padre insisted to the Commanding Officer that he had not known of this regulation as must have been the case for the Hospital Matron who also wrote to tell Joan that they had done all they could to revive him, giving nearly two hours artificial respiration, but that he had probably died while in the water. Bearing in mind the location of this Regiment and the Hospital at the time, Ceylon Headquarters, there is a likelihood that there had not been too many deaths at that time.

From Rev Murray Padre – Dated 25 July 1944

“As I know you will want all the details that can be supplied, I have tried to discover as much as possible. It appears that being free on Sunday afternoon, he decided to have a bathe at Mount Lavinia. He had been surf-riding some time when someone happened to notice that he was

Further out than most and was lying on his back with one arm thrown out to surf board. His general appearance suggested that all was not well and several men immediately swam out towards him but before they could reach him he was swept out to sea, and it was nearly a quarter of an hour before he was brought to shore. He was rushed at once to the Hospital only about 200 yards away, and everything possible was done to bring him round.”

From the Hospital Matron  - dated 26th July 1944

 “I know every effort had been made to save him.

I feel you may find some comfort in these few words – a bunch of pink and white lillies out of our garden, we placed in his coffin with your love. He was seen by our RC Chaplin.”

Joan’s letters in response, some time later, give expression to how she must have felt. Remember, she was only 24 years old with an unplanned son and had been married for less that two years following a passionate love affair with Tony which started in about June 1941 while he was on leave. She had been orphan at the age of thirteen of well to do parents in 1933 and her only brother, Peter, was killed in a military, at Lymington, in September 1943.

She must have felt devastated and emptied of all hope. The four immediate loves in her life wiped out and all that was left was the responsibility of bring up a boy to the standard that would have been expected by her late husband.

 Some time later she received letters from Capt. Don Courtenay and Lt.Col. K.C.Sharpe who was Tony’s Commanding Officer and also socially a close friend. These letters give some account of how Tony was found in the water and how they had tried to save him.

 From Don Courtenay -dated 7th Aug 1944

“ I am the Adjutant of this unit and as you know Tony was on our headquarter staff. Naturally living together in the same Mess etc. we were very friendly and Tony particularly  endeared himself to us. He was always so bright and cheery … nothing got him down and was a grand example of an officer making the best of a job of work out here. He often spoke about you when we used have our little chats after dinner and in fact I have four photographs before me now.

About the accident I cannot say much as I was on the Court of Inquiry. He was drowned in the sea.. at a popular bathing resort .. and the circumstances seem to suggest that he went to the rescue of another person in difficulties.

The time was about 17.15 hrs on Sunday 23 July 1944.”

From Lt.Col. K.C.Sharpe-dated 7th Aug 1944

“I think he showed up best in running one sideline of Welfare, he used to worry the authorities for wirelesses or footballs, whatever it was, so long as he got it for the troops, by which actions I was always very proud of him and he was extremely popular with both officers and men, and in particular the Indian troops, who knew a kind and understanding European. I expect Tony told you that we shared a small yacht, we had a lot of fun with it, with the intention of making it faster than Brigadier’s.”

 From 2nd Lieutenant Richard Souray – dated 13 Aug 1944

“I am hoping that you will remember me, if I remind you of the occasion when I had a drink with you and Tony in the Capt’s Cabin shortly before leaving England.Tony and I became good friends on our way out here, and, as you know we shared a variety of experiences. On our arrival in India, we applied to be posted together to an Indian Unit and our application was granted.”

All the letters point to this young man of 28 years old who was cheerful and outgoing and loved and respected by all ranks.

It is interesting that Tony should have had the job “Sideline” of Welfare and that he took this work seriously although finding time for his own relaxation. In one of his Letters to Joan as early as January 1944, while they were still in India he reference to the distress of his men with wives back home, some of these wives being disloyal.

 Tony and the Lt.Col. had bought a sailing boat together and in a later letter from Kenneth Sharpe, it is described  how they were building it together on the cheap, by scrounging components from various sources.

 Joan obviously was aware of the quality of man she had become involved with and yet must have been bowled over by the letters expressing his qualities and how much he would be missed by all around him.

Over the next 6 months, in her responses to these letters, Joan expresses very clearly her state of grief and in January 1945 six months after D-Day when the end of the war was in sight she says

“It is like a fleeting dream that flashes through the mind and then is gone and you awaken with only a faint realisation and wonder what more there was. Although I have had your letters and the death certificate from the War Office, I still cannot put aside the thought that when peace comes and the men come home again for good – Tony will be amongst them.”

Don Courtenay, as Adjutant, and obviously a close friend of Tony’s, helped Joan a lot with details and tried to ensure that all Tony’s effects got home. Despite considerable difficulties they did meet up in London late January 1944 and Don met the whole Guise Family and spent the night at 4 Pinfold Road no doubt passing on information that could not have been written down because of War Office Regulations. 

The final blow to Joan was that despite all efforts, Tony’s effect did not return intact. Letters and forms continue on until as late as March 1946 and it seems that the majority of Tony’s belongings were lost. One small tin box is all that came through containing a few bit and pieces. Joan was particularly concerned that Tony’s “Sam Browne” a leather army belt, should be past on to her son, Raoul, but this also seemed to be lost.

The letters from Joan, not only give us some inside story to Joan’s deep grief and how she coped with it and planned for the future, but also some insight of her approach to her son. Initially in letters he is referred to as the boy, although later his name, Raoul, is used and reference is made to Tony’s plans for his future at Downside and how Joan assumes the full responsibility for his upbringing and her hopes that he will be someone of whom his father could be proud.

The letters portray Tony to be someone of exceptional qualities and someone who had the ability to relate well to all. This is interesting when put along side the fact that he was a trained and obviously high competent artist, generally seen as an introspective occupation, with a keen eye and a talent. This highly social and sociable nature can probably put down to his upbringing with a flamboyant and dramatic mother and two doting younger sisters, a combination that coupled with a strong religious faith, would be a good foundation for a confident outgoing personality.

 His last letter to Joan was written on 22 July 1944 in which he refers to his yacht, the work he had done on it and the difficulty in getting sail cloth. This last letter also mentions the difficulty he has in getting to the Golf Club..

There are in archive the last two letters written by Joan to Tony in Ceylon. Neither of these he received as they would have arrived after his death. All other letters from Joan to Tony may have been lost, maybe amongst the belonging that never got back to Joan.

The last letter, written from Meols, on the 20th July 1944, 3 days before Tony died is particularly poignant, in so far as having asked if Tony is alright because she had not heard from him, Joan is then quite forcefully requesting answers and opinions about whether or not she should plan that they move from London in the long term, particularly from Stanhope Road, as the flat was rather small and could well be bombed anyway.

To see the irony of this young woman struggling with the worry about her husband’s safety and with the responsibility of supporting a child while moving around England like a refugee asking advice and wishing to share decisions with her husband who was about to died is a tragedy which is only soothed by the knowledge, in retrospect, that she and he child survived and thrived.

It is sad that the ultimate understanding of this exceptional individual is acquired though letters written by his colleagues after his death.

From Joan last  letter to Tony 20th July 1944

“I went up to town last Tuesday week {this was the 11th July 1944} for the day just to see how things were getting on. There were 8 or 9 raids while I was there and just at first I went through ghastly agonies of mind lest anything should happen to me and leave Raoul all alone in Nottingham where I had left him. One came very close – over the house and landed I think near Tooting Bec Common – I was all alone in the house so it wasn’t very pleasant. The place was in a filthy state with dust and plaster and the whole of the bedroom was just a carpet of glass – with enormous chunks of plaster as big as your hand thrown in for relief.!! I really couldn’t do anything about it in he short time I had, so I just collected a few things I needed and threw moth balls into everything I could lay hands on also under the carpets and generally tidied up and ran necessary errands around Streatham.”

It is such a good thing that Captain Don Courtenay, the company Adjutant, who did so much for Tony and Joan on Tony’s death, did get in touch with Joan at the end of  January 1945 as he had promised. After letters and a telegram they did met up at 4 Pinfold Road as Stanhope Road was in a mess as described in Joan’s letter. There was so much chat that Don Courtenay spent the night there. It was good for Don to meet Tony’s family and an opportunity for the family and Joan to hear about things that could not be written down in letters in Wartime.

Sadly none of this information was recorded and the only anecdote that has filtered through the years is the story that when Tony’s transport ship to India was sunk in the Mediterranean, he was apparently in readiness for such an evident and his desire not to loss a good pair of shoes. More detail has been found in two letters from Tony as discussed previously however all that passed between Don Courtney and the family is loss forever.

The War in Europe ended on 5th May 1945 V.E.Day.

The War with Japan ended on 15th August 1945 V.J.Day.


Capt. Don Courtenay  and Lieutenant Colonel Sharpe did keep in touch with Joan during 1945 and wrote further supportive letters to her.

 Full Transcripts of letters regarding Tony’s death are in appendix